The chemical supply chain: addressing the sector’s skills gap

The chemical supply chain requires a workforce with varying skills and experience, not just to operate, but to innovate and grow.

The chemical supply chain: addressing the sector’s skills gap

In some sectors, it is becoming ever challenging to attract and retain the right talent. Tim Doggett, CEO of the Chemical Business Association (CBA), looks at what is being done to showcase the chemical supply chain as an employer of choice, sharing valuable insights that may benefit other similarly challenging sectors.

Future sustainability

The chemical industry is one of the most important and diverse industries in the world and it is a vital thread that runs through society and economy alike. It relies on a large and complex chemical supply chain, requiring a wide range of skills, job functions and ancillary industries to be in place for its effective operation. It is important, therefore, that we take action now to ensure sustainable future generations of appropriately skilled people and talent are developed and nurtured for the chemical supply chain.

There are three main reasons that action must be taken now to prevent a shortage of talent in the sector: the imminent retirement of experienced employees, a perceived skills shortage among the generation that will replace retirees, a lack of awareness of the opportunities that exist due to negative perceptions.

Shifting perceptions

To attract sustainable and diverse talent, the negative view of chemical supply chain industry careers must be addressed. This can only be achieved once companies start combating stereotypes by advocating for their organisations, by informing the public of the chemical supply chain’s overarching value, and by showcasing the range of inclusive opportunities available in the chemical supply chain. Trade associations have a major role to play in these efforts, particularly if this is by way of collaboration, as it will reach a much wider audience and facilitate the recruitment drive.

However, recruitment is just one step in the process. Retention is equally important, and companies must view and value their current employees as one of their most critical assets. Employee mentoring, training and development are crucial elements to bridging the skills gap, and companies in the chemical supply chain must commit to prioritising skills development, either by offering vocational training and skills programmes or by supporting opportunities for continuous learning.

The chemical supply chain has a huge range of career opportunities to offer people from all walks of life, and the CBA continues to lead and facilitate collaboration to use the experiences of recent years as catalysts for positive change and, in turn, to build and maintain momentum.

As part of this drive to support the industry, the CBA has partnered with Cogent Skills, the skills lead for the science and technology sector, to provide its members with exclusive access to a practical range of skills services, including policy support, apprenticeship provision and careers outreach training. The CBA itself also offers a comprehensive training programme across a range of regulatory and compliance matters, including Chemistry for the non-Chemist, COMAH, Spill Response, Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH), and the Carriage of Dangerous Goods by Road (ADR), as well as ‘Online Clinics’ and ‘Best Practice Workshops’ on a wide variety of subjects.

Industry initiatives

A major challenge facing chemical companies is that the sector is not widely regarded as an attractive career choice. As such, the range of opportunities that exist are often overlooked. To this end, industry has launched various initiatives aimed at challenging perceptions and promoting the opportunities that exist not only to get the younger generation interested and involved, but also to attract talent and make the chemical supply chain an employer of choice.

In 2022, the CBA established a Future Council, comprising young people with a diverse variety of skills and roles from its member companies. In addition to promoting the chemical supply chain, encouraging future industry talent, and promoting STEM education, the Future Council’s objective is to help young people enhance their understanding of the chemical industry, beyond their own jobs, and enable them to contribute meaningfully to industry policies. It is further aimed at engaging with Millennials and Gen Z by showcasing the diverse career opportunities within the sector and informing youngsters and educators about the important contribution science and the chemical supply chain make to the economy. 

CBA also joined forces with the Department for Transport (DfT) and other membership organisations, including the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport (CILT) and Logistics UK as official partners of Generation Logistics, an industry-led campaign aimed at bringing industry together, shifting perceptions, and encouraging the next generation to optimise opportunities in the logistics industry.

Additionally, the CBA and its members have supported ‘Chemistry with Cabbage’, a programme set up by Lorelly Wilson MBE, with the aim of engaging primary school students in practical chemistry, for many years. It is also actively involved in several other initiatives aimed at young people and future STEM leaders. 

Equality, inclusivity, diversity and sustainability

Equality, inclusivity, and diversity are essential aspects of a thriving workplace, especially when it comes to attracting and retaining talent. In recent years, the chemicals sector has become a leader in promoting diversity, equality and inclusion, with businesses across the chemical supply chain ensuring that policies and legislation are continuously revised, that training and development opportunities are accessible, and that best practices for creating more diverse, equitable, and inclusive environments are in place.

Of course, the growing global focus on sustainability – both within the chemical industry and by external stakeholders – has become a crucial competitive factor for many businesses and potential employers’ environmental impact has become a major career consideration for many young professionals. Unfortunately, lingering misconceptions about the industry have hampered the ability of chemical companies to attract top talent.

Contrary to belief, companies across the chemical supply chain have been developing sustainable strategies and strengthening net zero commitments for years. Many, including the CBA, are actively involved with the Responsible Care (RC) programme, a global, voluntary initiative which provides an ethical framework for the safe and sustainable use and handling of chemical products.

Furthermore, as the chemical industry has a key and leading role to play in decarbonisation – both as a consumer of energy and in developing sustainable solutions for the future – understanding carbon and other greenhouse gases and their role in climate change has become increasingly critical for the sector. With several of its staff having been certified Carbon Literate, the CBA offers Carbon Literacy training to its members. The certified training, which provides insight to help individuals and companies make informed choices to reduce their carbon impact, enables members to roll out Carbon Literacy to their organisations.

A vital sector

The chemical industry provides essential components, materials and technologies which are used as inputs in more than 97% of manufactured goods globally. The CBA’s distributor and logistics members alone employ over 10,000 people and make 2.25 million deliveries a year, contributing more than £4 billion to the UK economy annually.

The chemical industry in the UK is one of the longest established in the world. To make sure that there is a sustainable pipeline of skilled employees that will allow it to continue to innovate and grow, it must be showcased and understood to be an attractive, dynamic and promising industry in which to build a successful and rewarding career. To achieve this, every industry stakeholder must play their part.

Tim Doggett has a wealth of experience in supply chain and logistics and has held senior leadership positions in both the UK and overseas for over 30 years.

Now leading the CBA, he has regular engagement throughout government and is an influential member of various key groups.

In addition to his UK activities, Tim works with international bodies such as the Group of 7 (G7) and the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), as well with other international Governments, National Authorities, Trade Associations, and other organisations promoting trade and cooperation.

As an inspirational and persuasive leader, he is a Chartered Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport (CILT) and a Fellow of the ‘Society of Leadership Fellows’ at St George’s House, Windsor Castle. He is an Ambassador for Generation Logistics and holds a number of professional qualifications such as ‘Dangerous Goods Safety Adviser’ (DGSA).